With The Boy hitting Blu-ray and DVD this week, I had a chance to catch up with director William Brent Bell to talk about this ghost story that is more than it appears. [Spoiler Warning]
The Boy was one of the big surprises this year for obvious reasons to those that have seen the movie. Before we jump into the final act, let's talk about how this all came about. How did you get involved with this project and how far along was the story when you came on board?
William Brent Bell: I really wanted to do something out of the horror space and more in science fiction, or I wanted to do something really intimate and creepy, like a ghost story in a house. I met with Gary Lucchesi, the president of Lakeshore Entertainment, and he asked me if I'd read a script of theirs, which was The Boy.
[Stacey Menear’s] script was in a really good space. It was really, really close to what it is. Conceptually, nothing really changed. That's the thing, people say that a movie is only as good as its script, or starts with the script, and sometimes that sounds like a cliché, but in this case it stood out as far as scary movie scripts.
I just called [Gary] and I said, "Man, this is awesome," and so I went back in and met with Tom [Rosenberg], who owns Lakeshore. We all had a very similar passion for the movie and how we wanted to do it, so it just made it very easy for us to make the movie together. Then we were location scouting a month later up in Victoria, British Columbia.
This is a movie that really hinges on the performances, especially because there are so few characters, so when looking to cast Greta, did you go to Lauren Cohan right away? What made you decide on her for this role?
William Brent Bell: I was familiar with her, but I didn't watch The Walking Dead that much, and so she was pretty much the first person I met with. I was out of the country, actually, so it was a Skype call, and before it I was like, "I don't know, is she right for this?" I wasn't sure because I didn't know her work well enough, and as soon as I talked to her, I realized that she's just great. She's so likable and down-to-earth, and she's beautiful but approachable.
She's great with being scared, with the action, with the sweetness of the romance, being able to do it all without having a bad attitude, and having to change the way she acts in a day multiple times because we shot so quickly. She's in every scene, so she carries the whole movie.
It's really interesting how in acting, especially with a horror film, discovering new people is great, because you don't necessarily need really famous actors. Sometimes that even takes away from the experience, and she was right in that sweet spot of a lot of people know her, but she's also not a household name, so you don't project all the other movies you've seen her in onto her character.
This movie has a surprising and unusual—in a good way—amount of sweetness to it. When Lauren's character believes Brahms is real, and they start taking care of it, you think it's going one way and obviously it goes another. The movie really hinges on her performance, but also in the audience being able to believe this. Can you talk about balancing it out and misdirecting the audience in a subtle way?
William Brent Bell: That's where I affected the script the most, and it was tiny details. It was the red herrings of the grocery boy, Malcolm, or the ex-boyfriend. Sometimes those ideas were there, but they got in the way of each other, in which case there might have been something that happened very quickly in the script, and you're like, "Oh, it's obviously not Malcolm, because he's in the scene."
We were able to carefully fashion the timeline and where the characters were, and what they were wearing, so that a smart audience-goer who was anticipating the twist would be anticipating, "Okay, It's going to be supernatural, or it's going to be this kid, this guy," but the whole point was even if it feels obvious as to what they're going to guess, they're not going to be guessing the right thing.
We bring the twist out of clean air. Hopefully we blindside people with what's actually happening, because they are thinking about a lot of different things, and it really works. As far as the balance, to me, the whole movie hinged on the scene when the doll knocks on her door. She freaks out and gets on the phone, and then he leaves her a gift, because she had to go from A to Z, to A to Z again.
In that scene when she starts to play by his rules, if the audience doesn't buy that then it's over, nobody's going to buy the rest of the movie, but if they could kind of go, "Oh, I see why she's doing this," or "I buy it," then they're along for the ride for the rest of the movie and that allows all the other things to happen.
That's a testament to Lauren. We did the movie very quickly, but that sequence we had to spend extra time on because the whole movie hinges on it.
Did you have a chance to watch this with audiences? Especially with this being a global theatrical release, there are people expecting a by-the-numbers ghost story and this goes into a really dark place. Did you enjoy seeing the mixed reactions from different people?
William Brent Bell: That's my favorite thing. Even in talking about doing a non-horror movie, it's so fun doing movies like this because of the audience. Everything, from the first time they see the doll, there are so many reactions throughout, especially in a move like this. Horror in general elicits a response from the audience.
Everybody can be scared, everybody gets creeped out by things. We tested the movie a few times at least, in which case it was just a packed house and we were listening to where they react and where they don't.
Even if we were improving the movie, or if we thought things weren't perfect, it was like, "This movie's totally working. Everybody's buying into it and they're having fun." Whether they're laughing or they're gasping, or they're screaming or they're completely silent, it's all a reaction in a movie like this. Certainly one of the most fun parts of the whole process was viewing it with an audience."
Yeah, this is a great movie to see with an audience because everyone is going to react differently. This is one of only a few movies in recent memory where the trailer didn't give everything away.
William Brent Bell: We fought really hard. People had to sign non-disclosure agreements. We couldn't have certain characters on the call sheet on our own website. STX Entertainment and Lakeshore were really, super behind the twist and going, "The trailer needs to be great, but it can never hint to what the movie turns into." You don't get that a lot.
This movie allows for the possibility of a sequel. Is there any active development on a follow-up to The Boy?
William Brent Bell: The companies involved want to know if the audience wants to see another movie. It seems like they might, so everybody has talked about it, but with the release coming up on Blu-ray and DVD, that's going to be one more piece of the confirmation puzzle: are people not going to respond to it on DVD, or are they going to respond to it?
I think they will. It's going to be a great movie to watch at home. And yeah, I think that a decision will probably be made really soon. Everybody wants that. Of course it has to be a great script. The sequel will be a complex little story to deliver on what the first movie delivered, but it's certainly possible.